A group of atheist students were kicked out of their university's fresher fair because of a "blasphemous pineapple" named Mohammed.
The Reading University Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society (RAHS) took part in the fair on Wednesday, in order to promote their upcoming debate "Should we respect religion?".
The society displayed a pineapple bearing the name Mohammed on their stall, to "encourage discussion about blasphemy, religion, and liberty".
"We wanted to celebrate the fact that we live in a country in which free speech is protected, and where it is lawful to call a pineapple by whatever name one chooses," a society spokesperson said.
Towards the afternoon, the group was informed they had to leave the fair by a member of Reading University Student Union (RUSU) staff. The reason given was several complaints had made against the offending pineapple, although RAHS members insist they were not made aware of any such protestations.
The society refused to remove the fruit due to their "commitment to freedom of expression", to which they were told by the RUSU member: "Either the pineapple goes, or you do."
A struggle ensued, wherein the pineapple was seized, but shortly returned to the owners, where it was re-christened Jesus.
According to the RAHS, a small group of students then gathered around the table and forcefully removed the pineapple's name tag. The society was then "forced to leave the venue", accompanied by security staff.
The society has voiced its disappointment at the chain of events, saying: "Our intent in displaying a pineapple labelled 'Mohammed' was to draw attention to cases where religion has been used to limit freedom of expression and other fundamental rights."
A spokesperson from the student activist group Student Rights said that the ejection "effectively amounts to a punishment for blasphemy, and should be deeply concerning for those who support freedom of expression on our university campuses.
"Whilst hate speech on campus is unacceptable," the group said, "students do not have the right to impose their religious sensibilities on others, and they must accept that they may be offended by those who do not share their convictions.
"The actions of the Atheist Society may have been provocative, but its members should have every right to express their views and not be censored. Instead of closing down debate Reading University Student Union should be encouraging students to interact with one another rather than pandering to the hurt feelings of the devout”.
Nick Cook, vice-president of student activities at Reading University, defended the union's actions, saying:
"RUSU is dedicated to promoting an environment in which all students feel welcome and included in all of our activities, while at the same time being committed to our members maintaining a culture of free speech.
"Our Equal Opportunities Policy and our Behavioural Policy (which all clubs and societies agree to be bound by), state that RUSU will create a culture based on the principles of fairness, respect and of valuing difference. The events did not comply with these ideals and took the action we felt necessary to maintain the culture that we exist to promote."
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